A weekend shooting outside a Durham club has prompted both a string of complaints to the Durham City Council and a social media campaign in support of the venue.
Emails obtained by the INDY
show that council members, residents, and police alike are concerned with violence at Emerald City Ultra Bar and Lounge. Since Saturday's shooting, which killed thirty-year-old Stacy Nichols Jr.
, four residents have emailed council members—some repeatedly—describing scenes of gunfire in their neighborhood.
“I moved to Durham in 1994 and have lived in the Tuscaloosa/Lakewood neighborhood for the last 16 years at [address redacted],” one resident wrote yesterday. “Generally, it has been a peaceful neighborhood until a few years ago when the Emerald City Ultra Bar opened in the Lakewood Shopping Center. There have been numerous problems with fights and gunfire and speeding cars. Noise has been an issue every weekend. Within the past few months, the noise occurs every night the bar is open which is Tuesday through Sunday. … This past Friday night around 2am, we heard what could only be described as a gun battle. It was 30-40 shots coming from the Lakewood Shopping Center. Immediately after, there were screeching car tires and then more shots down Lakewood Ave. I had friends in town from London to attend a funeral, who were petrified. My neighbors grabbed their dogs and ran into the back of the house. As the Emerald City patrons tore out of the shopping center that night, the three cars in front of my house were hit by either another vehicle or a bullet. My car was struck by a vehicle and will require some body work. Additionally, the gun battle resulted in a death and injuries. … I am at a loss as to what to do. I’ve lived on Lakewood Ave for 16 years, but I cannot take this anymore. Noise is one thing, but MURDER, gunshots, and dangerous driving are another.”
On its Facebook page, however, the bar says it’s "part of a movement to make our city and our people better."
"The disconnect is the gentrification happening over there," says Umar Muhammad, a community organizer and longtime friend of the club's owners, Derrick Bridges and Roy Hubbert.
Following the shooting, the club extended its condolences via a Facebook post
and said it would "continue to plead" with Durham police to provide more security at the club.
In an email to the resident who has lived in the neighborhood for sixteen years, council member Steve Schewel described the "troubles" at the club as "an untenable situation" and said Durham police are "extremely concerned and working on the problem."
Responding to the same resident Thursday morning, council member Don Moffitt wrote that police are "working on initiatives to stop the violence originating from Emerald City.”
One such initiative, he said, is “through the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The ABC issues liquor licenses and can rescind those licenses if enough evidence is compiled directly linking the business to violations of state law. A second effort is via the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency, to have Emerald City declared a nuisance and have them closed. Again, law requires a preponderance of evidence.”
The Durham Police Department appears to have been seeking to have Emerald City declared a nuisance and shuttered for at least a couple of months, according to city records. In an email dated December 20, and responding to noise complaints, Corporal R.L. Paffel wrote to Moffitt and others in the DPD that: “It is our intent to create dialogue between NCALE Nuisance Abatement Team, The D.P.D. and the owners of the shopping center and everyone else involved. I have compiled 2+ years of documentation on this club and look forward to sharing it with the owners and a Judge if they do not act to close the club down or at least let the lease expire without renewing it. NCALE Agents will go door to door in the affected neighborhoods and interview citizens for added documentation.”
"In my opinion the club has forfeited the right to operate by their practices which have now resulted (indirectly, yes, but resulted nonetheless) in bloodshed," Moffitt wrote in a separate email Thursday afternoon. Moffitt represents Ward 3, where the club is located.
Shortly after he sent that email, Moffitt told the INDY
that as complaints about the venue have come in, so too have words of support. Ideally, he said, the club owners, with whom he has not spoken, would "reach out to people in the neighborhood and seek to operate in a way that allows people to live nearby without being intruded upon unreasonably."
"I don't see a solution that's going to make everybody happy and that's just difficult," he said.
Emerald City manager Kortnee McAdams, who is engaged to co-owner Hubbert, says claims that the club is a source of violence are unwarranted. The club, she says, had tried to enlist off-duty Durham officers to provide additional security, but no one wanted the job even when the club was offering "more than Duke University pays to work its events."
"We've been there almost three years now, and we've tried to collaborate with the city and police to get security," she says. " It's kind of hard in this situation to figure out what they want us to do without us looking like the bad guys."
The relationship between Emerald City and the DPD seems to be turning around since the shooting. Club staff, Durham police, and community members met Thursday to discuss security. According to McAdams, police chief C.J. Davis said her department would work on a plan to make the parking lot safer, and several officers agreed to work security at the club, in addition to the six to nine guards the club employs.
As Emerald City put it in a Monday Facebook post, "talks are starting strong."
McAdams says no neighbors or city officials have come to the venue to talk about their concerns. In addition, she says Durham police have not notified her of an effort to shut Emerald City down.
Moffitt says he has not been made aware of similar complaints about any other venue in his district. Prior to Saturday's shooting, he says, most complaints concerned an "unrelenting wall of sound that goes on until two a.m." From what he's been told, he adds, officers didn't want to work security at the club for fear over their safety.
Moffitt says the disagreement boils down to "differing community values"—newcomers to the area expect more peace and quiet than long-term residents of Tuscaloosa-Lakewood, who see Emerald City, whose liquor license dates to 2015, as a pillar of the neighborhood. Asked if the conflict is a product of gentrification, he says "no one" has suggested to him that the race of the club's clientele—primarily African American—is the problem.
Muhammad, on the other hand, directly attributes conflict over the club to gentrification and the racial conflicts that come with it. Newer residents would rather see the Emerald City space put to use as something they identify with, he says, and are strategically documenting incidents that could be used as evidence to close the club.
McAdams guesses neighbors would think differently if the venue was called the Emerald City Community Center. To her, that's really what it is—a place for the community to come together and generate social good. The bar hosts toy drives, gives proceeds to people in need, and doesn't throw open its doors until the staff has prayed together, she says.
"I think the disconnect is they only see that it's a nightclub," McAdams says. "That it's an African-American club where young people come to party. No one talks about the positives."